6 Things to Know about Sleepwalking in Kids.

6 Things to Know about Sleepwalking in Kids.

What is sleepwalking?

Sleepwalking in kids is the strange phenomenon of getting out of bed by oneself during sleep. And then returning to bed to continue sleeping. Neurologically, it is a sleep disorder.

Symptoms generally include walking around in their home in a semi-awake state, but some patients may actually leave their home or exhibit other dangerous behaviors.

The strange thing about sleepwalking affected individual can engage in very complex activities and actions—opening the door to the street, taking equipment, avoiding obstacles—all while asleep and without causing collision or injury.

After the incident is over, the sufferer will return to bed and continue sleeping. 

6 Things to Know about Sleepwalking in Kids.
6 Things to Know about Sleepwalking in Kids.

Sleepwalking, as a sleep disorder, called somnambulism medically. Strictly speaking a sleepwalker is not actually dreaming, though they are walking. 

Sufferers of sleep paralysis feel paralyzed and unable to move during sleep, while sleepwalkers have the opposite problem and move to much. 

Human sleep divided into rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM), and NREM divided into 4 stages, among which stages 1 and 2 called light sleep, and stages 3 and 4 called deep sleep.

When people sleep, the brain cycles back and forth between REM and NREM, and dream only during the REM sleep[3].

However, according to existing research, sufferers are in the transitional stage from deep sleep to light sleep or wakefulness during NREM periods[3].

So when sufferers sleepwalk, although they have no dreams, they are in fact in a deep sleep. 

The prevalence of sleepwalking is much higher in kids, especially in kids between the ages of 3 and 7. 

It is more common in children with SDB(sleep-disordered breathing). There are also higher cases of sleepwalking in children who wet the bed. 

Sleepwalking in Kids

Symptoms of sleepwalking

In addition to walking during deep sleep, other symptoms of sleepwalking include:

1. Talking during sleep.

2. Little or no memory of incidents.

3. Difficulty waking sleepwalkers during an incident.

4. Inappropriate behavior, such as urinating in the closet (more common in children).

5. Screaming (when sleepwalking and fear of sleep occur at the same time).

6. Violence.

7. Sufferers may even attack people who try to wake the sleepwalker.

Sleepwalking in Kids

Factors which cause sleepwalking

Research on the causes of sleepwalking is ongoing, but at this stage it can  determine that many factors can cause sleepwalking. The most common are:

  1. Related to genetic factors: if parents or siblings suffer from “sleepwalking”, then the probability of a child sleepwalking will be 10 times higher than normal.
  2. Related sleep conditions: lack of sleep, irregular sleep, and stress related sleep problems. Additionally, frequent intoxication, certain sedatives, hypnotics, nerve relaxants, nerve stimulants or antihistamines, etc., may also cause sleepwalking.
  3. Related diseases: insomnia, sleep terrors, SDB, RLS(restless legs syndrome), arrhythmia, fever, asthma attacks, seizures, and more. If sleepwalking symptoms caused by these issues, than treating the underlying condition is of utmost importance.
Sleepwalking in Kids

Night Terrors, Insomnia and Sleepwalking

Sleep walking can coexist with other sleep problems. Such as Night Terrors and Insomnia. Night Terrors manifest as emotional and behavioral disturbances during sleep.

Sleepwalking and night terrors have been observed during slow wave sleep, and subjects exhibited no memory of the incidents [2].

According to research, children treated for sleep-disordered breathing and severe insomnia have seen rapid improvements.

Which provides important evidence that sleep-disordered breathing may have important health-related significance[1]. It is also worth noting that there are reports of insomnia in the family.

Studies of twin cohorts and families with sleep horrors and sleepwalking have shown that insomnia has a genetic component. 

Likewise Restless leg syndrome and sleep-disordered breathing have been shown to have a familial component.

Whether genetic factors directly affect sleep terrors and sleepwalking, or other diseases that disrupt sleep and cause confusion, remains to be shown[1].

Sleepwalking in Kids

What can be done for a child that sleepwalks?

If possible, guiding the sleepwalker back to bed is the best choice, but in most cases sleepwalkers do not listen to commands or direction.

So the professional advice given by the National Science Foundation (NSF) is to use a loud volume and sharp noise to wake the sleepwalker;  while maintaining a safe distance to Sleepwalkers. 

This may successfully wake the sleepwalker. 

NSF recommends this method rather than attempting to physically wake the sleepwalker, as they might exhibit an involuntary violent response. 

Sleepwalkers, like anyone being awoken from a deep sleep, often feel panic and shock. Once awakened do your best to comfort them. 

How to treat sleepwalking in kids?

Since lack of sleep is often a cause of sleepwalking in kids, increasing sleep time is helpful. Other triggers for sleepwalking include alcohol and certain drugs.

In addition, establishing a regular and relaxing routine before going to bed can help limit sleepwalking. Creating a safe sleep environment is essential to preventing injuries during sleepwalking.

For example, if your child is sleepwalking, don’t let him or her sleep in a bunk bed. 

Additionally, do not put any sharp or fragile objects near the bed. You can also go so far as to install doors at the stairs, and keep all doors and windows locked.

If the child still exhibits the symptoms of sleepwalking into adulthood, it is recommended to seek medical treatment. 

Reference:

  1. Guilleminault, Christian et al., 2003. Sleepwalking and Sleep Terrors in Prepubertal Children: What Triggers Them? Pediatrics, 111(1), pp.e17–e25.

2. Poblano, Adrián, Poblano-Alcalá, Adriana & Haro, Reyes, 2010. Sleep-terror in a child evolving into sleepwalking in adolescence: case report with the patient’s point of view. Revista brasileira de psiquiatria, 32(3), pp.321–322.

3. Pressman, M.R., 2018. Sleepwalking, criminal behavior, and reliable scientific evidence: A guide for expert witnesses, Washington: American Psychological Association.

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6 Things to Know about Sleepwalking in Kids
6 Things to Know about Sleepwalking in Kids

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